Williams College Museum of Art

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Williams College Museum of Art
WCMA exterior.tif
Established 1926
Location Williamstown, Massachusetts
Director Christina Olsen
Website wcma.williams.edu/

The Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA) is a college art museum in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Situated at the Williams College campus close to MASS MoCA and the Clark Art Institute, its growing collection encompasses more than 14,000 works,[1] with particular strengths in contemporary art, photography, prints, and Indian painting. The museum is free and open to the public.


Lawrence Hall, soon to house Williams College Museum of Art, before the addition of the two wings designed by Francis Allen in 1890

WCMA was established in 1926 by Karl Weston, an art history professor who made it his mission to provide students a venue for firsthand experience of art. The College's art collection, in large part donated by Eliza Peters Field in 1897, had been housed in two small wings of what was then the College library, Lawrence Hall, designed by Thomas A. Tefft in 1846. When the library was moved to Stetson Hall in 1920, however, Weston transformed the octagonal brick building into an art museum, adding a T-shaped wing in order to provide additional space for galleries and the College's rapidly expanding art history curriculum.

Over the next half-century, under a series of directors, the College enlarged the art department and the museum's collection. In 1981, Director Franklin W. Robinson hired Charles Moore to redesign the building in order to raise facilities to professional standards and double exhibition space. This coincided with an expansion of WCMA's staff, educational programs, and exhibition schedule.

Accredited by the American Alliance of Museums in 1993 and re-accredited in 2004, the museum has been the site of dozens of exhibitions (see Past Exhibitions, below). In 2012, WCMA hired its current director, Christina Olsen.


Maurice Prendergast, Figures Under the Flag, 1900-1905

Made up of 14,000 individual works, the collection has particular strengths in ancient Egyptian, Assyrian, and Greco-Roman objects, Indian Painting, African Sculpture, photography, art of the U.S., and international modern and contemporary art. The museum is also home to the world's largest assembly of works by the artist brothers Maurice Prendergast and Charles Prendergast. These works were donated in 1983 by Charles's widow Eugenie Prendergast, and were the basis for WCMA's Prendergast Archive and Study Center, which is maintained as a center for scholarship on the brothers and their contemporaries.

Marking its 75th anniversary in 2001, the museum installed Eyes (Nine Elements) by Louise Bourgeois. This outdoor sculpture has since become a symbol of the museum's dedication to contemporary art, as well as an iconic part of the Williams campus.

Notable Artworks[edit]

  • Morning in a City (1944), by Edward Hopper
  • Eyes (Nine Elements), by Louise Bourgeois
  • A commissioned wall painting by Sol LeWitt
  • Death on the Ridge Road (1935), by Grant Wood
  • More than 400 watercolors, oils, and sketches by Charles and Maurice Prendergast
  • Relief of a guardian spirit from the Assyrian Palace at Nimrud, 9th century BCE, currently on view in the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Current Exhibitions[edit]

There is a wide variety of exhibitions currently on view at WCMA.

  • Looking at and Looking Through: Rethinking Portraiture - with Highlights from the Collection of Jonathan and Karin Fielding. Material Friction, an exhibition that put early American folk art in conversation with American art from the WCMA collection, became the site and subject of a Williams art history course. Graduate and undergraduate students work directly with the Fielding collection, researching questions about museum practice and experimenting with modes of display, ultimately implementing their own installation of the works. Observe students’ progress throughout the semester and see their vision realized from November 15, 2014 through January 25, 2015.
  • Angelica Mesiti: Citizen's Band - In its US debut Angelica Mesiti’s Citizens Band unites four individuals from disparate cultures—Cameroon, Algeria, Mongolia, and Sudan—in a cinematic and immersive multi-channel video installation. The performers, situated in the large cosmopolitan cities of Paris, Sydney or Brisbane that have become their adopted homes, carry on the traditions of their birthplaces through personal and intimate forms of music. Transcending time and place, the video culminates in a powerful fifth piece of music that weaves together the four distinct expressions with the cacophonous background of the bustling cities.
  • Musical Garlands: Ragamala - Sixteen miniature paintings from India give visual form to a layered history. They speak across time to a musical legacy: traditional ragas, or melodies, inspired poets to take up their pens, and in turn, verse inspired visual expression. With painstaking detail, 16th through 19th century artists rendered the moods of music and verse, and compiled their ragamala paintings into albums.
  • Immortal Scripts - Bringing WCMA’s Assyrian holdings together with a selection of artworks from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Yale University Art Gallery, Immortal Scripts takes a close look at inscribed objects and the many messages they convey. A second-century Syrian grave marker details a family’s lineage and commemorates a brother’s death. A fragment of the Egyptian Book of the Dead provides spells to guide the deceased to the afterlife. An example of visual propaganda from ancient times, the inscriptions on WCMA’s Assyrian reliefs attest to the power of words.
  • Publication Studio - WCMA’s Rotunda, the site of the College’s original library, becomes its latest hub. A platform for public and curricular use, Publication Studio brings us together to make books and exchange ideas about the ever-changing notion of the book.
  • From the Land of the Buddha to the World of the Geisha - Through close examination of the works of art assembled by Professor Scarlett Jang and WCMA curator Elizabeth Gallerani, the students in Professor Jang’s Asian Art Survey discuss a variety of topics including sexual symbolism in Hindu and Buddhist art; landscape painting as moral and political rhetoric; and connections between the sex industry, kabuki theatre, and art in Edo Japan (1615–1868). For a glimpse of how students are engaging with these works, visitors are encouraged to peruse the paper assignments available in the gallery.
  • Franz West - In conjunction with MASS MoCA's installation of Les Pommes d'Adam (2007), WCMA presents the colorful mixed-media sculptures, collages, and furniture of Austrian artist Franz West (1947–2012) in a seven-month exhibition of the Hall Collection this year. The exhibition uses unconventional materials such as lacquered aluminum in erotic and provocative forms.
  • Fathi Hassan: Migration of Signs - The artwork of Fathi Hassan makes Arabic script intentionally illegible in order to highlight the ambiguity of the written word and the illegibility of cultural sign systems. In recent years, Hassan, himself a Nubian born in Egypt, uses his collages and murals to address the migration and upheaval associated with the aftermath of the recent Arab Spring. The exhibition will include a commissioned floor-to-ceiling wall drawing.

Points of Interest[edit]

Fulkerson Fund for Leadership in the Arts[edit]

Established by Allan W. Fulkerson '54, the Fund is now in its fifth year and continues to support a variety of student-centered projects at WCMA. Central components include:

  • WALLS (see below)
  • Think Tank
  • The annual Leadership in the Arts Award is presented to one graduating Master's and one College student. This award recognizes graduates who are poised to become future arts leaders. Winners are awarded a fully funded trip to meet with a prominent alumni arts leader and an American Alliance of Museums membership.

Monuments Men[edit]

U.S. military men removing the van Eyck's Ghent Altarpiece from the Altaussee salt mine, 1945

During World War Two, a body of nearly 350 servicemen and women was established to recover and protect artwork from areas affected by the conflict. This organization was known as the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program (MFAA), or more colloquially, the Monuments Men. Among the ranks of this enterprise were Williams graduates Charles Parkhurst '35 and Lane Faison '29, who both returned to WCMA to serve as museum directors after the war. In February 2014, Sony Pictures released The Monuments Men a feature film directed by George Clooney that has revived interest in these lesser-known heroes of the war. On March 7, 2014, WCMA celebrated its own two Monuments Men by inviting Faison's sons and Parkhurst's widow to speak at the museum.

Williams Art Mafia[edit]

This informal group studied under the trio of Lane Faison, Bill Pierson and Whitney Stoddard, and became collectively known as the Williams Art Mafia. Its members include:

  • Roger Mandle '63, former president of the Rhode Island School of Design
  • James N. Wood '63, former director of the Art Institute of Chicago and head of the J. Paul Getty trust
  • Earl A. Powell III '66, director of the National Gallery of Art and chairman of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts
  • John R. "Jack" Lane '66, president of the New Art Trust
  • Kirk Varnedoe '67, former curator of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art
  • Thomas Krens '69, former director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation
  • Glenn Lowry '76, director of the Museum of Modern Art.

Today, Williams art students graduate ready to take on a broad variety of leadership, creative, and education roles within the art world.

Major past exhibitions[edit]

  • Carrie Mae Weems: The Hampton Project (2000) - In this installation, part of the museum's permanent collection, Carrie Mae Weems combines her concerns about individual identity, class, assimilation, education, and the legacy of slavery into a series of photographic banners that encouraged viewers to reassess their own moral and ethical boundaries, as well as the political and socioeconomic realities of twentieth-century America.
  • Prelude to a Nightmare: Art, Politics, and Hitler's Early Years in Vienna, 1906–1913 (2002) - This exhibition examined the influence Vienna, Austria had on the young Adolf Hitler and how this influence was later manifested in his creation of the Nazi party. The exhibition was WCMA's contribution to The Vienna Project (2002), a collaboration among eleven arts and cultural institutions in the Berkshires that explored four centuries of art from the Austrian art mecca.
  • Moving Pictures: American Art and Early Film, 1890–1910 (2005) - This exhibition explored the relationship between American art and the new medium of film at the beginning of the 20th century. Showcasing approximately 100 paintings and 50 films, "Moving Pictures" presented art and film side by side, examining the complex relationship between these two media at the turn of the last century.
  • Beautiful Suffering: Photography and the Traffic in Pain (2006) - This exhibition of photographs drawn from contemporary art, advertising, and photojournalism, explores the ethics and aesthetics involved in depicting human suffering.
  • Making It New: The Art and Style of Sara and Gerald Murphy (2007) - Sara and Gerald Murphy are best remembered as the captivating American 'expats' who inspired F. Scott Fitzgerald's Tender Is the Night. This exhibition, however, examined the two as forces in their own right who helped drive the modernist movement of the 1920s.
    Asco: Elite of the Obscure, A Retrospective, 1972-1987
  • Asco: Elite of the Obscure, A Retrospective, 1972–1987 (2012) - The first retrospective to present the wide-ranging work of the Chicano performance and conceptual art group Asco. Asco began as a tight-knit core group of artists from East Los Angeles composed of Harry Gamboa, Jr., Gronk, Willie Herrón, and Patssi Valdez. Taking their name from the forceful Spanish word for disgust and nausea, Asco used performance, public art, and multimedia to respond to social and political turbulence in Los Angeles and beyond.

List of Directors (1926-present)[edit]

Director From To
Karl E. Weston 1926 1948
S. Lane Faison 1948 1976
Whitney Stoddard 1960 1961
Franklin W. Robinson 1976 1979
Milo C. Beach 1979 1979
John W. Coffey II 1979 1980
Thomas Krens 1980 1988
Charles Parkhurst 1983 1984
W. Rod Faulds 1988 1989
Linda B. Shearer 1989 2004
Marion M. Goethals 2004 2005
Lisa Corrin 2005 2011
Katy Kline 2011 2012
Christina Olsen 2012 present


External links[edit]